Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Love Like Blood: My Favourite Literary Vampires

I love vampires, though I do think they're overused. There's something iconic about them that is attractive and their games, the cut and thrust of vampire politics, coupled with their exotic, sensuous nature makes them attractive. I'm trying to stick to literature only here, so I'm skipping over the likes of Spike, Angel and the like .

I do wish there were more strong female vampires, admittedly but the way the genre has evolved still harks back to Lord Ruthven and Lord Byron (upon whom Ruthven was based).

Zillah: Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite

A novel set in the sleazy, liminal, back worlds of the American nightmare, replete with runaways and auto eroticism, Zillah is in many ways the perfect vampire for the times.   Omnisexual, hedonistic and cruel, he is the leader of his pack, a surrogate father who guides their steps. The fact that he usually leads them to the next meal or debauchery is perhaps something we should overlook.

His influence runs throughout the novel, tempting and chastising the other characters and even though he is hardly a figure to emulate (though many of us might try with his attitudes towards drinking, drugs and sex) he makes his mark even more than the protagonists. The fact that his defeat is largely pyrrhic, the damage has been done and the heroes only limp away, adds to his attractiveness. He may be damned, may be killed but he takes his due.

Sonja Blue: The Sonjah Blue Stories by Nancy Collins

Punky and raw,  Sonja is the titular opposite of a lot of vampires. She's a mean bitch from the streets, a vampire killer, what would be called a diablerist in Vampire the Masquerade and Requiem, and she doesn't give a damn. There's a lot to admire in her story, that of a woman who is broken and rebuilds herself into a new form, jettisoning her weak past to become something new; something terrifying.

The attraction here is in the character's rebellion, the way she captures the spirit of the age in many respects and the fact that Collins has created an honest to the gods 'bad ass' female character.

'Polidori': The Stress of Her Regard, Hide Me Amongst The Graves by Tim Powers

 'Polidori' is only one mask the vampires in these novels wear, they are alien and confusing; something Powers pushes to the fore. Creatures of stone, their intelligence is quite different to humans' and that adds something else to their natures. Powers is clever in justifying traditional weaknesses and strengths; twisting them to his own design. The horror he evokes, beginning with a statue that comes to life and murders the protagonist's bride on their wedding night, is truly chilling. The fact that he ties that to history, initially to the Romantic Poets' short lives and inevitable demises only makes it more heart rending. Hide Me Amongst the Graves' focus on the Rosetti family has a similar effect as he takes elements of their lives and ties them to the horror of the vampire myth.

The thing that attracts me to these vampires is how damn strange they are. There's almost nothing to overlap them with the more traditional iterations of the vampire, and yet everything you need for an undead monster that thrives on drinking blood is here.

Kate Reed: The Anno Dracula novels by Kim Newman

Pale, Irish, and Socialist; Kate Reed is perhaps an odd choice for a vampire. Originally a throwaway character from Dracula, Newman gathered her into his collection of misfits for Anno Dracula and has made her his own. Like Wyndham, Newman specialises in writing highly practical characters, especially women, and Kate is no exception; showing her wit, wisdom and tenacity throughout her unlife. As Newman's series spreads across more than a century we get a scattered view of her existence, from London rookeries, the battlefields of Flanders, 1950s Rome and, finally, the brave new world of modern America. She remains stolidly on the political Left and fervently opposed to Dracula. As a result she takes her place along Genevieve Dieudonne as the backbone of the vampire resistance and serves as a sharp contract to Penelope Churchward, who prevaricates between serving the Count and resisting him.

What I really like about Kate is that she's so different to most vampires, rejecting the selfish, controlling path that most walk.

Count Dracula: Dracula

Lastly we come to the figure who has become synonymous with the word 'vampire'. The Count is perhaps the epitome of the Byronic male, easily eclipsing Ruthven (who was based upon Byron in the now infamous spat between Polidori and his employer). Suave, commanding and terrifying he is everything we imagine the vampire to be and he retains his affiliation with the dissolute aristocracy; exercising a twisted droit de seignur over the lower classes in the form of his blood drinking. Not only that but Stoker created the concept of the 'Renfield', a stooge enslaved by the vampire to serve as his daylight proxy, something that has become part of the culture since then.

What I like about Dracula is that he's so unapologetic about his nature. There's no angsting over who he is, and his origin is shrouded in so much mystery that he may have willingly become a vampire.